WHERE WAS OFFA’S PALACE?
Traditionally the site of King Offa’s Palace was said to be within Sutton Walls. Although no archaeological excavations to date have located the foundations of a palace, Sutton Walls would probably have been part of the wider Royal Estate of the Mercian kings including King Offa (757-796AD).
Recent excavations at Sutton St Michael, Marden and Wellington indicate that the palace settlement ‘is likely to have comprised a number of different sites including a domestic complex, guest lodgings located nearby, another complex where visitors were received and entertained, and industrial and workshop quarters’. (Archaeological Works at Sutton St Michael 1999: An Interim Statement).
In 1999 Channel 4’s Time Team and Hereford archaeologists carried out excavations at Freen’s Court below Sutton Walls and located the remains of an enormous later Saxon period grain store which could have been part of this extended Royal estate. In addition excavations near St Michael’s church in Sutton uncovered evidence of a rampart structure similar to the Saxon town defences in Hereford. At Wellington gravel quarry, near Marden village, archaeologists discovered two watermills of Saxon date, one dated to 700AD, which were used for the production of flour and undoubtedly came under the control and ownership of the royal estate.
(Time Team, Series 7, episode 10 is still available to view).
There are several exciting theories about the location of the main palace which may suggest it was in the parish of Marden close to St Mary’s church on the banks of the River Lugg.
These theories are explored further in Dr Keith Ray's book "The Archaeology of Herefordshire: An Exploration".
Archaeologist Michael Wood included Sutton Walls in a 1979 documentary entitled "In search of Offa" which was part of a larger series on BBC series called
"In search of the Dark Ages". While it may not entirely reflect current thinking it is never the less an interesting description of Sutton Walls, Hereford and the
St Ethelbert legend. View all of the documentary on YouTube here